Prof Paul Richens

Prof Paul Richens

I studied Natural Science and Architecture at King’s College Cambridge, before joining Applied Research of Cambridge Ltd, founded by Lionel March and Philip Steadman, one of the first of the “Cambridge phenomenon” companies, and the first in this country to develop software for architectural design. In the seventies, my OXSYS and BDS projects, aimed at the design, documentation and analysis of system-built hospitals, resulted in the first practical BIM software. In the eighties I developed GDS (General Drafting System), for geometrical drawing (and later solid modelling) applicable to many different design disciplines. In 1986, following the take-over of Applied Research by McDonnell Douglas, I became Technical Director of their AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) Systems Company.

I joined the Martin Centre (the research wing of the University of Cambridge Department of Architecture) in 1989, becoming its Director in 1992.  There I lead the CADLAB, a group of researchers into architectural Computer-aided design, and founded with Nick Ray of the Cambridge Historical Buildings Group. The CADLAB made contributions to sketch design, interfaces for geometrical design, digital photogrammetry, urban texture analysis and spatial simulation, and generated notable innovations in the area of interactive rendering and use of game engines for architectural communication.

In 2005 I took up a chair in Architectural Computing at the University of Bath, and worked on software for the design of buildings and structures with complex geometry, and the application of computers to various aspects of architectural history in particular the virtual reconstruction of historic landscapes and gardens.

On retiring from Bath I have been appointed to a part-time research chair at the University of Westminster, where I continue to work on the virtual reconstruction of historic buildings and cultural landscapes.

I am a registered architect and have been at various times:  director of Applied Research of Cambridge, Moller Centre, Informatix Software International; chairman of the Construction Industry Computer Association; advisor to the National Film and Television School; Vice-Master of Churchill College Cambridge.  


  • Beckford’s ride. with Marion Harney and Amy Frost. Reconstruction of William Beckford’s linear garden stretching from Lansdown Crescent in Bath, to the neo-GrecianTower on the down above. Implemented in the Crytek game engine, forming a permanent  interactive installation at the Beckford  Tower Museum.
  • Prior Park. with John Tredinnick. Reconstruction of a Georgian landscape garden developed by Ralph Allen, with a lot of advice from Alexander Pope, using a computer game engine. Exhibited as part of ‘Le virtuel, une réalité’ , Sorbonne 2009.
  • Early development of the Ionic Capital. with Mark Wilson Jones, funded by AHRC. Documented a corpus of early capitals with laser scanning, Rhino reconstructions and 3D printing, in order to clarify the relationship between the Cycladic and Ionian modes of design, and and explain why the Cycladic form was discarded.


  • Pope’s garden. Alexander Pope is remembered as a poet and satirist, and perhaps as a translator of Homer, but it is not commonly recognized that he was an innovative and influential designer of gardens, reacting against the formal geometrical patterns of the baroque and leading to a naturalistic and picturesque approach, taken up by his friend William Kent.  The project is to reconstruct his own garden and villa in Twickenham as they were around 1740, in order to supply a context for the proposed restoration of his famous grotto, the only surviving fragment of his original poetical landscape.
  • Thomas Hope’s Deepdene. Hope was a wealthy collector and aesthete, influential in the early 19c in the development of the Regency style. He redeveloped a famous mansion and garden and near Dorking, on the site of an earlier Italianate garden known to Evelyn and Aubrey. The striking landscape in which it was situated survives, though partly built over, and Hope’s own mausoleum, but the rest has been destoyed. The aim is to make a virtual reconstruction of the exterior of the mansion, garden buildings, and planting, as part of an HLF funded improvement of the surviving landscape by the Mole Valley LA.
  • Fonthill Abbey. This colossal folly, which ruined the wealthiest commoner in England, William Beckford, and finally collapsed in spectacular fashion in 1825, was the climax of the secular gothic revival. Though well documented by topographers and painters, notably JMW Turner, almost nothing survives of the building, and the integral landscape around is overgrown and inaccessible. The aim is to harness the power of virtual reality to recover some impression of what it us like to walk around this astonishing building.
  • The Architectual Imagination of Mervyn Peake. The Peake novels Titus Groan and Gormenghast are set in a vividly described architectural context - the castle-city of Gormenghast. The architecture is deeply entwined with the narrative, almost as if it were an additional character. Our investigation is into a) the way in which the setting and the narrative support each other, and b) the sources of the architectural imagery. We are attempting various mappings of the topology of Gormenghast, and investigating potential sources of imagery as varied as the landscape of the Island of Sark, Gustave Dore's illustrations to Tennyson's Idylls of the King, and the collegiate architecture of Eltham School, which Peake attended as a boy. The research is background for a possible future effort to create a virtual Gormenghast.